It’s Time for Dentists to Stop Pushing Themselves to Their Limits

Maggie Augustyn, DDS


I do not shy away from my own self-appointed mission to fight imperfection, and I hold myself accountable to that mission by admitting it to anyone who stands within earshot. My battle in this is longstanding and constant.

But very often, I feel like I have made very little headway in the decades of my existence. While browsing through Audible, I found The Gifts of Imperfection by Brenee Brown. I immediately clicked on the Buy button, hoping that it could be life-changing.

Having struggled with depression my entire life and having been in therapy for almost as long, I had somehow failed to remember that there is no magic button when it comes to changing our very flawed thought patterns. This book was not going to cure me of my perfectionism.

Changing how we view ourselves and how we love ourselves is a lifelong commitment. But a new idea from this very book did initiate a pattern of change in me.

The Dig-Deep Button

In one of the book’s most profound lessons, Brown describes what she calls the dig-deep button, or DDB. This idea really hit home as I read:

“It’s the button that you rely on when you’re too bone-tired to get up one more time in the middle of the night or to do one more load of throw-up-diarrhea laundry or to catch one more plane or to return one more call or to please/perform/perfect the way you normally do even when you just want to flip someone off and hide under the covers,” Brown wrote. “The dig-deep button is a secret level of pushing through when we’re exhausted and overwhelmed.”

This incredible observation, put into words, suddenly led me to visualize a previously unknown mystical button that, upon examination, I also hit too often.

In facing the continual pressures of being all things to all people, we are choosing to compare ourselves to our peers, our pals, and some very talented outliers in our lives. Long ago, we joined a rat race to get a bigger house, drive a nicer car, make more money, be skinnier, look younger, and raise smarter kids. I get exhausted keeping track of all of the expectations I have forced upon myself.

But with Brown’s description of the DDB, it now begins to make sense. Each one the races we are aimlessly running includes a button. We have the parent button, the spouse button, the provider button, the practice owner button, the friend button, the son or daughter button, the coach button, and the list goes on and on. In pressing these buttons enough times, I’ve discovered, and maybe you have too, that we are moving further and further away from pause and peace.

The most important DDB is the family button. It isn’t hard to imagine how many times, as parents, we have a long and tiresome day only to return home to family drama, such as our kids not getting along, arguing with spouses, or uncomfortable relations with our siblings.

The DDB gets pressed when we hope to bring back some sort of balance to our internal world as well as theirs. It is a button that is probably the easiest to press. After all, no matter the day, stretching ourselves past the comfort of our steady lives to better the lives of those we love is our duty, our purpose, and our gift to them. Day or night, far away or near, sacrificing for our family is what we do, what we do well, and what we must do.

The Dental Provider’s DDB

The less important DDB is the dental provider button. This button has everything to do with being kind and compassionate. It is truly living up to our purpose as healers.

Late in the evening, I received a call from the parent of an existing patient, a 12-year-old boy, who had “knocked out” an upper anterior tooth. I was already in my pajamas and ready to turn in after an exhausting day. As I held the phone, I ran through every possible scenario that would not involve me going back into the office.

I began describing to the parent how to push the tooth back into its socket, sans anesthetic. The parent’s voice began to shake. “Wait, you want me to put the tooth back, as my son is crying in pain?” the parent asked. It was unfair of me to have suggested that.

For a moment, I considered referring the young man to an emergency room, which would most likely involve a several hour wait and make the replantation less successful. I began to realize that I had the ability to save this kid’s smile despite my exhaustion. Plain and simple, I was either going to go in, or the kid would not have the tooth for his lifetime.

Slightly annoyed at life and completely drained of energy, I pressed the DDB and drove to work. I replanted the tooth, attached the wire, and saw him again in the morning. It was truly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life, even though it was at the expense of my peace and pause.

Unhappy Endings

Not every example of pressing the DDB is a fairytale.

As providers, we press the button when we’re dealing with patients who are disrespectful and disruptive, when all we want to do is tell them to get out of our offices.

We press it when well-intended treatment fails, when we deal with our own shortcomings as clinicians, and when we must find the courage to come clean in those instances with our patients.

And there are endless examples of when we feel like we need to press that button.

All too often, we find ourselves pushing the DDB as if we were playing the keys on a piano. We push it multiple times each day, and the process becomes exhausting and draining. We have forced ourselves to believe that our self-worth and purpose comes from pushing these buttons, but we fail to realize the toll it takes on our psyche.

In today’s world of high-speed everything, we put more and more on our plate, forget about the failsafe of saying no, and allow stress and commitment to grow past what one person ought to handle. 

I dare to say that I won’t be able to convince you to stop pressing the DDB. Just like you, I would feel disappointed in myself if I didn’t take an opportunity to live up to what I perceive to be my highest potential. Thus, I also can’t commit to getting rid of my DDB.

But there comes a time when our DDBs become keys in unwillingly played melody that can bring about an emotional bankruptcy. In understating that, we should make a commitment in unison to avoid pushing those buttons.

The fallacy that “what doesn’t break us will make us stronger” invokes an unnecessary chase. The truth is that what doesn’t break us will make us terribly exhausted instead. That exhaustion makes it difficult and even impossible to feel joy and gratitude. So prior to pressing your DDB, if doing so is unavoidable, pause to find peace first and then proceed.

Dr. Augustyn is a practicing general dentist. She earned a DDS from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2004. She has completed the course sequence with the Dawson Academy’s continuum in oral equilibration and cosmetic dentistry. She participates at least 50 hours of continuing education each year. Additionally, she is a moderator of Dental Nachos, a Facebook group. Dr. Augustyn also is an avid writer who enjoys listening to nonfiction books, vacations by the water, and spending time in nature. She lives with her husband of 18 years and daughter in a Chicago suburb. She can be reached at   

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